"To me, gentle, respectful parenting means seeing your child as a unique, worthy, and full human being from the day they are born."
Dayna is a working mama of two toddlers, ages three and 17 months, working through her childhood traumas, breaking generational cycles, and learning to love herself again. Dayna is working to become a Transformational Embodiment Coach so she can help other mamas come back home to themselves and offer their families a more healthy, happy future. You can find Dayna online at daynaciarfalia.com and on Instagram @the.conscious.healing.mama
SWY: Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your story with childhood abuse and trauma?
DC: Hi! I’m Dayna Ciarfalia. I grew up in a small town in northern Minnesota and from an early age experienced little T and big T traumas. From being taken from my mother at the age of 15 months due to her struggling with mental health issues to my dad remarrying at age three and attempting to brainwash me into thinking that his new wife was my mother and that my actual mom was just a family friend, I experienced it all. My father was a workaholic and was hardly around. But when he was, he was often angry. Lots of yelling, lots of shaming, spanking, lots of criticizing, etc. My step-mother often treated me like I was a second-class citizen - Body shaming, parentifying me, looking to me as her confidant, etc.
My half-siblings began to come into the picture when I was nine years old and from then on I was considered an extra caregiver for them. My life became more about tending to their needs and prioritizing them above myself and my own needs at all costs. I grew up often fully caretaking for them - From getting them up and dressed and off to school in the morning to disciplining them and more I held this as a full-time priority when I turned 16 and my sibling’s mother (my step-mother) left my dad and was no longer in the picture. In addition, my biological mother was very inconsistent in my life - sometimes seeing her as little as once per month due to her mental health issues. She attempted suicide seven times throughout my childhood so I was exposed to seeing her in very vulnerable positions from an early age. My entire childhood I was left to mostly figure things out on my own, find my own way, pave my own path, and draw my own conclusions. Not an ideal situation for any child.
SWY: What brought you to your journey of self-healing?
DC: Since I was in high school, I was always into learning how I could be better. In college, I enrolled in a leadership retreat and that’s where my deep personal development began. I made a lot of improvements to myself and my habits that allowed me to function executively and successfully as an adult. Though it wasn’t until my children were born that I truly started looking deeper at the why behind many of my natural and automatic responses, behaviors, and habits. The more I peeled back the layers of who I was the more I realized that it was all impacted and created because of what I went through as a child. I started questioning everything about myself and learned that so much of who I thought I was wasn’t actually who I was at all, but rather a product of who I became to survive in my family system.
SWY: How does shutting down or neglecting a child’s emotions impact the child?
DC: Speaking from my own experience of consistently being shut down emotionally as a child, I can tell you that it creates a human who adapts by shoving away emotions completely. It creates a human who is disconnected from themselves and in turn, then disconnected from others at a deep level. It can produce an adult who is so disconnected from their own needs and wants that they become a people pleaser and rely entirely upon others to direct their life. It can cause the child to dissociate from life and learn to live life on autopilot just going through the motions day in and day out without realizing it. It’s not a fun place to be and it’s no way to life a full and happy life.
SWY: What impacted your decision of wanting to parent differently?
DC: I can remember watching my dad yell and spank my siblings and thinking “I’m going to parent differently” from a very young age. I just always knew deeply that there was a better way to do things. My psychology education in college solidified that for me.
SWY: Can you explain what gentle respectful parenting means and can you give an example? How has this parenting style changed your relationship with your children?
DC: To me, gentle, respectful parenting means seeing your child as a unique, worthy, and full human being from the day they are born. It means viewing our children through a lens of curiosity and learning. It means intentionally learning about our children’s development so that we can better manage our expectations of them as they grow. Our main goal is to fully see and respect them in all of their beingness and to put our relationship with them at the forefront. Examples include speaking with your children from the day they are born, including them in what their day looks like, what things will be done to them (ie: “I’m going to pick you and place you on the table to change your diaper” or “we are going to the park in 20 minutes so we are going to get you changed and into the car seat”, and any changes that will be made (“we usually go to grandmas in the afternoons, but today is a little different. We will be doing x, y, z instead. How do you feel about that?”). Allowing them to make choices and feel they are important, contributing members of the family.
This style of parenting has allowed me to grow such a deep, meaningful relationship with children constantly seeking to learn more about who they are at their core rather than placing what I think they should be onto them. My situation is a bit different in that I started my parenting journey on this path so I’ve not known any other way of parenting. I often see the relationship my friends have with their kids and think “wow, how different their journey could look if they adopted a more respectful/conscious approach”. But of course, that is not my place.
SWY: Is there any advice you’d give to individuals who are thinking about beginning gentle respectful parenting?
DC: If you were not parented this way, it will feel very odd and awkward at first. That is normal, keep going! This style of parenting is based on love and not fear. So much of traditional parenting methods (like spanking, bribing, punishing, etc) “works” because it is rooted in fear. Fear that if it’s not done then your kids will turn into entitled brats. It instills fear of threatening attachment to us in our kids and that’s why it works. Our kids’ number one priority is to maintain a safe, secure relationship with us as their parents. And they will almost always comply with fear-based tactics, not because they are actually learning how to properly behave, but because they are scared of what will happen if they don’t do what is asked. This style of parenting is ALL about teaching and guiding which means that it often takes a lot of repetition and practice with our children before it “sticks”. Knowing this upfront and setting proper expectations upfront will help so much along your journey! Also, there is always more to learn so don’t expect yourself to know all the things and do it perfectly all the time. We are humans and humans make mistakes too. You will fall back into old patterns (yelling, shaming ,etc) unintentionally at times. Human nature to have this happen. It’s totally okay to make mistakes like this! What matters is that you always open up and apologize to your children and them aim to do better next time.